Tag: Stekelenburg

Weak Oranje does the job: secure 3 points

I knew the day had to come. The day that Memphis got (some of) his mojo back. It would have been unthinkable that a lad with so much talent would just waste away. Yesterday, Danny Blind needed him. And told him “Memphis, I need you to make a difference!”. And he did.

Earlier on, when Blind was questioned for selecting Depay, he said he trusted his talent. After the Luxembourg game, he added: “I’m not surprised by his turn today. He’s training well. He still has it. I think the difficult time at Man U has made him better.”

It was all about Robben’s return. The 32 year old super winger was missing in action for Oranje for a year (to the day). Our talisman was needed to turn Oranje’s self doubt into swagger. And he does and he did. Whether it was in interviews, press conferences or just that all important difficult look on his face when stepping out of the players’ bus. Robben brings professionalism. The Bayern man was alive in the first half and could have scored 2 or 3. That it was him to break open the score was not a surprise. Passing the ball with his gifted left foot past the goalie. Klaassen had tried it before, Sneijder had an attempt, it was crowded, hasty and nervous. But whenever Robben had the ball, it was all pure class.

arjen scoort lux

A little muscle twitch in the final stages of the first half, however, saw Robben walking off with a grimace on his face. The former Groningen man wanted to keep on going, but the Oranje medical staff advised against it. “Don’t take the risk!”. And he listened. Wesley Sneijder had a tough match too. He was struggling with the abysmal pitch and couldn’t put his stamp on the game. Danny Blind: “I felt the need to go play with two real wingers. Taking Robben off (Berghuis) was a disappointment for us and Arjen, but I wanted to bring Memphis for Wesley to have a better positioning on the field.”

So, the two veterans who were supposed to lead Oranje to success were subbed and two question marks were brought on. And it was Memphis in particular, who took the game by the hand foot. And head. As the little mercurial forward scored his first goal (Oranje’s second) with a C Ronaldo like header on a cross from his ManUnited buddy Daley Blind. The second Memphis goal was a free-kick. After many failed attempts to hit the target from a setpiece in the famous George Best jersey, he finally got it right in an Oranje shirt.

gini memphis

At that time, Luxembourg was already done for. The minions defended like..eh… lions and in particular their goalie had a field day, refusing the likes of Robben, Klaassen and Wijnaldum earlier in the game. The 0-1 was supposed to have come earlier, so Oranje could work on the goal difference. But the goalie and his ferocious defenders – aided by a horrible pitch – stopped Oranje from opening the flood gates. And when we finally got the 0-1, a bad judgement call by Joshua Brenet got Luxembourg on the score sheet. Stekelenburg was able to thwart Man City twice from the spot, but Maxime Chanot did the job: 1-1.

They key for Oranje was to win. And they did. We hoped to see more goals, more flair and more flow but the circumstances were not helping. A bad pitch, a mixed up line up, ferocious defending and a good goalie didn’t help. The Oranje performance was well below par, but with the three points in the bag, it gives some breathing space to the Oranje staff to try and get things right. And Arjen Robben will definitely be at hand to help.

During Holland – France in March, when he wasn’t playing, he was seen debating the tactics with the technical staff during the match. Against Belgium, when Holland was forced to play 5-3-2 with Wijnaldum playing right wing back, again, there was footage of Robben moving in to talk to Hoek and Blind about what was going on. Robben might be our playing captain/coach… He is also the man who reaches a top level whenever he’s fit and shows the confidence and aims for the level we fans are so longing for.

robben sneijder

Arjen Robben, after the match: “I’ll be honest with you, I was a bit shocked when I saw our level today. We were not good. Stray passes, not enough movement, bad decision making. Not what I’m used to and definitely not good enough. We will need to improve. A lot!”

There were mitigating circumstances of course. For starters, Luxembourg parking the bus. Secondly the pitch was dramatic. Thirdly, we played in a new line up yet again, with two debutants as well. I also believe that a goal in the first 15 minutes would have helped. Now, we scored late and 8 minutes later, Luxembourg got their penalty, lifting their spirit.

Joshua Brenet had mixed feelings. “I am happy with Memphis’ two goals. Otherwise I would have felt like shit. I’ll thank him for this. I don’t think it was a penalty though. It happened outside of the box. He didn’t it smartly. Ran across me and then slowed down so I would bump into him. Then he went down as if he was shot. The ref saw it differently. He said I pulled him down. That didn’t even happen! But that guy did it smartly and I was fooled.”

Bast mist luc

Bas Dost is another player with mixed feelings. The Sporting striker is known for his ferocious fighting mentality and self criticism: “Listen, I’m happy. Of course. This is a team sports and our team won. Great, but I would have wanted to do better. I really wanted to score and be important. I can do much better than this. But, sometimes the ball doesn’t get to you and you need to work for the team.”

Just like Luuk de Jong is not good enough for Oranje’s aspiring top level, the same applies for Bast Dost. He is just a good super sub. It’s surprising that Danny Blind still doesn’t want to use Robin van Persie in games like this. He’s smart, experienced and has the quality – like Robben – to decide games with one action. The return of Robben showed a similar approach by the Oranje players as we saw with Argentina-Brazil a couple of days ago. All balls on Robben! And with Argentina: all balls to Messi! Sneijder was isolated on that left wing and I think if we want to utilise Sneijder he should play on the #10 position. I can imagine Blind will play 5-3-2 or 4-5-1 vs France away, but against Bulgaria and teams like that, surely Sneijder can play as shadow striker behind Janssen?

oranje lux

Ramselaar was breath of fresh air. His movement, workrate and forward thinking is needed in this midfield. With Wijnaldum, Bruma and Van Dijk, he was the one of the positives.

Wijnaldum has become a real workhorse in his current role (just as with Liverpool), a long way from his trickster game when playing for Feyenoord as a dreadlocked Gullit wannabe. The spotlights are less on him now, but his role is invaluable. Daley Blind played a mediocre first half but with Memphis in front of him, the ManU player could combine more and penetrate. His cross was the assist for the 1-2 and he also put Memphis one v one with the Luxembourg goalie. Marten de Roon was watching Oranje vs Belgium in England, on the couch, but made his debut late in the Luxembourg game. Pretty proud to mention that he is the first player of my own old amateur club ASWH to reach Oranje! (Started at ASWH, left for Feyenoord youth and then Sparta Academy. The rest is history)

de roon

De Roon: “I got chills when the coach said I had to prepare to go on. It’s a dream come true. When I went to Feyenoord I hoped to reach the top. Some players go the direct route. I had to go via Sparta, Heerenveen, Atalanta and now Middlesbrough. I don’t care. I played 3 minutes in Oranje and I’m happy as can be. The coach did give me some homework. He said I need to be a bit more domineering. Asking for the ball, not just destroying and passing into others. He believes I can do much more in possession. I know this, he’s right. I will work on it. This experience is fantastic and I long for more.”

Danny Blind was realistic: “I know we didn’t play great, but the circumstances weren’t ideal. Missing around 10 players never helps. And Luxembourg has gotten better through the years. This is their best team ever. You don’t win 0-7 just like that anymore. I think we could have scored earlier and if you then score the 0-2 in the first half, you can play yourself to more in the second. But we didn’t take the chances and one mistake puts them back in the game. It has an effect. Luckily we did the business in the second half, and we have the 3 points we needed.”



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Oranje draws, but takes a loss…

Or actually: three losses…

Friendlies are there for coaches to try things out, test the team, build confidence, let players gel together and for federations to make money….

However, prestigious friendlies against rivals might do the opposite: a loss will not build confidence and as Oranje already had to make so many changes, letting players gel together was a big ask.

And typically for the bigger mess we find ourselves in, Danny Blind loses three key players in run up to Luxembourg! Stijn Schaars: calf. Vincent Janssen: concussion. Jeremian Lens: hamstring.

Sure, it’s only Luxembourg, but again Blind needs to re-shuffle and again we will miss an opportunity to build on a new foundation.

Danny is almost able to field a complete team of players not available due to injuries or not available coz they don’t get playing time…

lens ham

The good thing is: Arjen Robben will be back.

Watching Nederland – Belgie was watching a team of top class players playing against a team of rookies, with one top class player: on the stands. And it was a boring ass game. Belgium didn’t seem to want too much, Holland couldn’t do too much.

Belgium is stacked with players from the big leagues / teams who clearly didn’t want to put too much into the game. As a result, they had nice dominance, nice possession, some flowing passing but no end product. Not having a real striker but Dries Mertens as a false nine didn’t serve them too well.

Defensively Belgium was vulnerable and looked off the pace at times but I don’t think they will have been too shocked with the Dutch attacks.

They have sensational players and I’m sure they’ll do well.

As for Oranje: yes we have injuries, yes we lack team composure and automatisms, but it was definitely not the sort of performance that instills confidence in the average fan (like me).

hazard sneijder

It was poor. Team tactics were fine and to see us go 5 at the back in the second half with young Brenet coming in was actually refreshing. At the WC2014, it worked at times. In the friendlies (Van Gaal, Blind) it didn’t work at all (France at home!) but against this Belgium it did. Veltman in particular was dramatically exposed on the right flank in the first half and the fast and hard working Brenet, playing fearlessly, add some spice to the team in the second half.

But on all other aspects of the game, we looked second-best constantly. The result is ok (if you care about this), but the performance was poor. No creativity, lack of speed and sense of urgency off the ball and poor passing.

Joel Veltman would be the first player to take off the team sheet for me. Defensively weak, build up play even weaker. He had several opportunities to launch the fast Lens with a ball over the top and he hardly used those.

Virgil van Dijk was the only player for me who stood out, with Vincent Janssen second best, purely because of his hustling and ballsy duelling. Van Dijk is becoming the real deal. Plays like a leader. Will make a big move this summer.

janssen baalt

Stijn Schaars started well but got knicked twice in a midfield duel and had to go off with a bad calf. He actually got the knock last week in the Eredivisie game vs Sparta, and might have agitated the muscle by changing his movement a little to avoid that knock. A dependable player. Low in risk taking. But not moving too gingerly anymore with his 32 years on the clock. He might not wear an orange jersey anymore, once the suspended and injured players return.

Lens was good on the ball but it was visible that he hasn’t been part of Oranje for a while. A lot of miscommunication between him and the midfield/defenders.

Janssen is able to make something out of nothing. Goes for everyball and will happily clash into goalies if the game needs it. Reminded me of Huntelaar eating grass at Wembley a couple of years ago, in a friendly.

I think he should have had two penalties for the two clashes with Mignolet, to be honest. The first one he knicked past Mignolet – ok, foot was high – and the Pool goalie grabbed him. Second clash, Janssen was there first and Mignolet crashed through him with his elbow hitting the Spurs striker on the head.

Lens did well to create the pen for us. On the ball, he looked solid. Sad to see him leave with a hamstring.

In typical fashion, Janssen played on for a spell – refusing to go off – but a concussion is not something to fool around with, and he’s out for Luxembourg.

janssen klap

For me, most players were average to poor. Clasie needed time to find his feet and rhythm and had some poor balls. Daley Blind didn’t reach his usual level. Wijnaldum still can be wrestled off the ball to easily for me. And to top it all of, sub Memphis Depay was not able to shake the cobwebs off and do something special.

Joshua Brenet has clearly put himself on the radar though. After 1,5 years of “not talking to each other”, Danny Blind and Brenet made peace. The PSV defender once said on tv that he thought Danny Blind only selected Ajax players, which is why he was ignored for Oranje. A gutsy thing to say. But also stupid.

Obviously, it isn’t true. And secondly, you don’t make the coach select you quicker. Brenet was ridiculed in Holland for these statements, as he was playing average in those days. Like many Dutch defenders: good on the ball, good going forward, but shocking defensively.

Brenet and Blind had their pow wow last week, shook hands and move forward. I’m sure he made an excellent impression and he could have had an unforgettable debut with an unforgettable goal, with a massive counter-attacking run when Belgium was out of position. Sadly, he missed the target.

Marten de Roon and Leroy Fer are called up for the Luxembourg game. I don’t think Blind will add another striker. Surely, Dost, Luuk de Jong and Fer as pinchhitter should be able to do the business.


It will be nice to take some rest from Oranje and hope for the likes of Elia, Bazoer, Willems, Janmaat, Memphis, De Vrij, Karsdorp…

Danny Blind said after the game he was happy with the result and the defensive performance. I can’t agree fully. The Belgiums didn’t really try. We were not really tested. The center backs did ok. The defensive mid did ok. The work rate of the team was ok, but parking the bus and stopping attacks is not “defending well”. Our out ball was poor and we had many chances to play out from the back only to dwindle too much on the ball and losing it again.

The key difference for me, and not just in this game, is the running and positioning off the ball by Belgium. As opposed to our play. Our defensive mids (Strootman, Schaars, Clasie) simply sit in that space. Not enough dynamics. Our midfield runs to support the striker (Sneijder, Wijnaldum, Klaassen) are lacking. The change of position up front and diagonal runs (De Bruyne/Hazard versus Janssen/Lens) was absent. It is not so much a quality thing, but more a sense of urgency thing, if you know what I mean.

Klopp, Conte, Pep, Pochetino, Ancelotti, Simeone…these are the coaches demanding this from their players. And players like De Bruyne, Hazard, Dembele, Vertonghen, Carrasco bring this to the team. In our team, only Wijnaldum has it (at times). Sneijder doesn’t have the legs. Lens doesn’t have the wherewithal and I think Clasie/Strootman/Schaars are simply not allowed…

Unless we don’t adapt to this new level of play soon (Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Oranje) we will slip and keep on slipping…

Iceland, Wales, Portugal, Leicester City… These teams do not have amazing quality players. Still they beat England, Belgium, France and the whole EPL last year…

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Derby of Lowlands insignificant: Oranje weakened…

The ones who have been with me and the blog for years know my stance on friendlies. I don’t like them.

I have told you many times why. Won’t go into too much detail. But this Belgium derby appears to be horrible in timing. We are lacking many players, probably will play a starting eleven (vs Luxembourg, the game that counts) that never played together before.

A coach would want to be able to use the days prior to the big game (Luxembourg!!) to practice. Get the players working together, bond, discuss tactics and roles. Instead of taking on a much stronger Belgium in a friendly. We all know what can happen. Belgium could tear us apart. They are better. As a team, most likely. Individually, surely. And as per usual, they have that inferiority complex and will want to beat us.

So in that scenario, say we lose 0-4, we need to shrug that off before the Luxembourg game. Media will hassle us, fans will ask questions and players might lose more confidence.

It’s also likely that Belgium will turn it into a real match. Which might lead to injuries.

All in all, not great. Or, our players might feel compelled to take the game to Belgium. Which might result in an ok result (0-0) or a great result – a win – but it doesn’t mean shit and we might end up with fatigue in the Luxembourg match.

line ups

And all of this, only for commercial reasons. For the KNVB to make money. As if they need it.

Danny Blind will not say it publically, but he will not be amused with the timing of this prestigious friendly.

Playing Luxembourg in a tough phase in the season is not so bad. Even if the first 22 are injured and we’d need to play Fosu Mensah, Nouri, El Ghazi, Toornstra, Denswil, Babel and Pieters, we’d still win it. Or we still should win it.

This Belgium game can be disruptive though.

Against Belgium, I don’t care who Blind uses. It will be for him to decide which player he wants to see (Zegelaar? Schaars? Lens?) and which to rest (Sneijder? Van Dijk?). We do have a number of players who are rested nicely. Daley, Wijnaldum, Janssen, Clasie…they all have had games off in the last month, so that’s not that bad.

Most will play with something to prove, but again: it might work against us.

Danny Blind remains the master strategist, who can always see positives. “The game does count for me. Winning vs Belgium means we improve our ranking. This might be key in the World Cup draw. So we will take the game seriously.”

vdijk bruma

Arjen Robben is keen to come (and play) but Bayern will only allow Arjen to sit on the stands for the Belgium game. I’m good with that. We need one moment of magic from him vs Luxembourg. Should we lead 2-0, I think Danny needs to sub him. No risk. Although, goal difference might become important in our group, so maybe he needs to keep him on.

The meeting with Belgium four years ago was Louis van Gaal’s first as Oranje coach in his second term, Oranje lost 4-2. Belgium is ranked #4 in the world, a whopping 16 spots higher than the Netherlands…

Maarten Stekelenburg will be on the team sheet, I’m sure. Cillesen lacks rhythm and so does Vorm. Stekelenburg had a screamer of a game vs Man City but made mistakes vs Chelsea and France, but overall he’s still a top goalie.

The match vs Belgium back then was Maarten’s last in Oranje, as Van Gaal picked Krul after the game. Due to the current Ajax’ goalie’s injury, Stekelenburg was offered two more games between the sticks and then it was all over. “I never watched Oranje at the WC2014. Too hard for me to watch. I should have been there.”

Back then, Van Gaal allowed De Vrij and Martins Indi their debut, while it was the last game of Sneijder and Van der Vaart together in midfield.

stekel pen

Stekelenburg came back from a dark phase in his career. “I can still have a bad day, like vs Chelsea… I had to do better on 2 goals. And yes France… I know. But I don’t panick anymore after a bad day. I spit in my hands and go on. The worst period I had was under Magath at Fulham. I didn’t even get a jersey number… Now, I can focus on my next game coming weekend and that is the best thing to do to shrug off mistakes.”

Stekelenburg knows he is not yet the Oranje #1. “Danny hasn’t said it to me or any of the other goalies. The situation is a bit fuzzy now with the injuries (Zoet, Krul, Vermeer) and Jasper’s position at Barca. But, I’m 35 years old at the WC2018, which is a good age for a goalie. The team is getting younger so an experienced goalie might be a plus.”

In 1999, Frank Rijkaard managed a Dutch side in a friendly vs Belgium which ended in a famous 5-5. Saw some amazing goals in that game….

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Oranje adds character to its armour

For years, the Dutch national team was synonymous with class. The passing of Sneijder, the dribbles of Robben, the trickery of Van der Vaart and the wonderful goals of Van Persie… In a somewhat more distant past: the guile of Van Basten, the touch of Bergkamp, the elegance of Rijkaard… Or maybe the magic of Cruyff, the intelligence of Van Hanegem and the unfathomable solos of Rob Rensenbrink…

And sure, we had grit. And fight. In midfield or defence, there was always a Johan Neeskens, Edgar Davids, Jaap Stam or a Nigel de Jong. But these players would be in service of the protected prodigal sons.


Jaap Gladiator Stam

We still develop great talents, but all nations around us have developed their technical and tactical skills while keeping hold of their specific national “traits”. Defensive strength of the Italians, the mental strength of the Germans, the physical strength of the English and of course the all round athleticism of the French… Playing shrewd can also be seen as a quality aspect, as the Portuguese have taught us many times over.

Holland needs to add some character, some intent to their game and at times we have been able to. Van Marwijk used 6 players in service of the Big Four, with Van Bommel and De Jong offering grit. Van Gaal did it with his tactics and bravado.

Under Danny Blind, a new chapter seems to be in production, trying to incorporate the best of all worlds… Technical skills (Promes, Sneijder, Wijnaldum, Blind), tactical smarts (Blind, Strootman, Sneijder), guile (Janssen, Karsdorp, Van Dijk) and…character…

Rick Karsdorp, Vincent Janssen, Kevin Strootman… They had to acknowledge that beating France at this stage was basically a bridge too far, but with courage and character thrown into the mix, we can go a long way. Again.


Johan El Torro Neeskens

Let me take you back: it was an icecold wintery Monday evening in March 2015 when a livid Karsdorp pressed his forehead against the face of referee Stieler. The German ref gave Young France a third penalty for a foul on super talent Benzia. Young Oranje is being taken to the cleaners and Karsdorp loses it. He would tell the Dutch media days later “never to have been played off the pitch in his young career as on that day, by the frickin’ French (4-1)”.

We’re 1,5 years down the track. The impatient Benzia decided to play for Algeria, as the French coaches overlooked the youngster for the senior team (hello Hakim Ziyech). And Rick Karsdorp? He was one of Holland’s best players in the senior game vs France in Amsterdam.

Karsdorp’s story is one of falling and getting back up again. Showing character when things turn bad. Biting your lip, instead of giving in. In that Young Oranje match, there was another youngster who doesn’t know the words “giving up”. Vincent Janssen, striker of Almere City, was a sub on that night in North France. He was looking to stake his claim after Feyenoord told him he didn’t have what it took to make it at Feyenoord.



And Janssen was also impressive, against the French at the highest level. Every time, people would say he was too light for the top. Karsdorp and Janssen are currently the role models for technical director Hans van Breukelen, who keeps on emphasizing the fact that Dutch football “might have the best technical skills, but is lacking the winning mentality”.

After Karsdorp’s clash with Laurent Koscielny, the medical staff of Oranje urged the Feyenoord back to come off. Joel Veltman was warming up already. But Karsdorp wouldn’t think about it. “I couldn’t even lift my arm up, but leaving the pitch? Never! I really wanted to finish the game.”

“Of course I know Dimitri Payet. I saw him play for France at the Euros and when he was subbed, I felt even stronger. Against Belarus, I felt my legs cramping up, 20 minutes before the end. But now, I could have played three more matches. Despite my shoulder.”

This month, it’s actually two years ago when Karsdorp was in tears in the Feyenoord dressing room. His first sub turn at Feyenoord and his mistake led to Rijeka’s goal in Croatia in the Europa League. It seemed his career for Feyenoord was over before it began. Fred Rutten, then coach of Feyenoord, was responsible for taking Karsdorp from Feyenoord 2 – the playmaker! – and putting him on right back in Feyenoord 1. Not only that, Rutten predicted that Rick would be the next right back for Oranje! A day after the match, Rutten talked with Karsdorp: “It is up to you. If you now succumb, yes… you career is over. But if you stand up and straighten your back, you will have a big future ahead of you.”

Karsdorp grows when others run for the exit. “After two years since that situation, I know what I have in me”.

janssen boos

Janssen doesn’t take shit from nobody

Vincent Janssen will be able to empathise: “I can find the positive in everything. Like this match. Yes we lost. That is a disappointment but we are a team again. All noses point in the right direction. We can build on this!”.

In recent months, apart from the likes of Janssen, Karsdorp and Berghuis, Quincy Promes emerged. Developed at Ajax, sent away by Ajax, back in the lime-light at FC Twente and after one year transferred to Spartak Moscow. Where he is a star. Since last week, he now also is a man to reckoned with in the orange jersey.

He had the misfortune of flipping his ankle early in the France game, but Promes lives up to his promise, finally (apologies for the pun).

When talking to Promes (24) you know there won’t be a silence in the conversation. The Spartak forward talks as fast as he takes on Russian defenders. He renewed his deal this summer and will be with Spartak until 2021. “It was a conscious decision. I’m not ready for a step up. I’m developing well in Moscow and there is more to come. Making the right move is not going to be easy. In terms of price tag, I’m expensive now. The mid-tier clubs in the bigger leagues won’t just buy me like that. Should I go to a big club, I run the risk of coming for the bench. I rather make more of a name here at Spartak.”

promes work

Promes vs France earlier on

This career path is remarkable for a lad who left Holland after one season at Twente. For an adventure in Russia? “I never wanted to leave Twente. But they were in financial dire straits. They called me in and said there was a massive deal on the table for me. They needed to sell me. I was pushed out.”

Scoring 18 goals in his first season, he did have to take a hurdle before scoring in Oranje. “I’m simply not the key man in Oranje. I play in the number 10 role for Spartak, protected, and the ball comes to me a lot. In Oranje, I’m more a winger. But listen, I know I can score. I wasn’t in doubt. The key thing is not me scoring, though. It’s Holland winning. Who ever scores. It’s not about me, it’s about Oranje making it to the World Cup.”

And the fact that the World Cup is in Russia is special for Promes. “Sure, it is. I’m happy to be on the team sheet always in Moscow. That makes it easy for the coach to select me. And I’m super proud to play for Oranje. Whenever I pull on my jersey, I get goosebumps. And I want to go to the World Cup.”

You are a very proud lad. And there is always that line in interviews or articles saying “sent away at Ajax”…

“I was a very difficult lad when I was young. I won’t lie about that. Super selfish. I played in Ajax youth and the arrogance comes with that. You think you are da man. But in all honesty, you’re not. You only sniff at the opportunity. At Ajax, at some stage, they had enough. And I could leave. I am grateful to them though. It changed my life. It opened my eyes. I should not be praised, I should always be pushed to fight. Then, I’m able to give my best.”

quincy interview

So what happened after Ajax? “I went to Haarlem but they went bankrupt almost immediately. FC Twente came and Patrick Kluivert was my coach in Twente 2. That man did something to me. They loaned me to Go Ahead Eagles and (current FC Utrecht coach) Erik ten Hag was there. He gave me the key to success. He was super strict. I didn’t get that at all. Until I suddenly realised he did it to help me. He turned me from a piece of coal into a diamond. I started to score goals at the Eagles and I was off. Next season, it all happened at Twente and now I’m with Spartak.”

So Kluivert and Ten Hag made you what you are now? “And Alfred Schreuder at Twente. I also became a dad at Go Ahead. Seeing that little one changed me tremendously. For the first time I realised I had responsibilities. I stopped living just for myself, I now work and live for my wife, my daughter. Well, daughters, we have two now.”

promes ten hag

Quincy at Go Ahead Eagles with mentor Erik ten Hag

How is life in Moscow? “I don’t live in an apartment anymore. Moscow is really a cool city, just very cold in winter. I will never get used to that. But Russians are typical people. They’re not very open or social, but once you break through that veneer, they will do everything for you. It’s not like in Amsterdam, where you can just borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbours. In Moscow, they won’t open the door even.

Would Spartak Moscow win the title in the Eredivisie? “Hmm, don’t know. PSV and Ajax are strong teams. But I don’t think Spartak would finish lower than 3rd or 4th. We are no Utrecht or PEC Zwolle, with all due respect.”

Speaking about Ajax, it was always your dream club. How is that now? “I’m from Amsterdam. Which means you want to play for Ajax. But, I’m not sure whether that’s ever possible. Probably not. But…you never know.”

And to finalise our portrait of winners… Kevin Strootman is renowned for his mentality. And in typical Strootman form, he was very angry at the player who made the mistake against Sweden, allowing them to score. This player was Strootman himself.

“The will to win is strong in me. Very deep. Fighting for the team. I have always done that. Friendlies, practice games… I find it hard to deal with mistakes that cost us points. And when I’m the one making the mistake, well….”

protest ref

Strootman came in front of the cameras after the Sweden game and was super critical on himself. He came to the Oranje camp for Belarus and France with a thigh injury but played a decent game vs Belarus. In the France game, he was again partly at fault for the goal conceded.

Did the Sweden mistake play around in your head? “Well, yes, for a couple of days. Sure. But once you’re at the club, there is that rollercoaster ride of games and you can put it aside. But when I came back to the Oranje camp, it immediately popped up again. We looked back at the Sweden game of course and that blunder was on the big screen again. I looked away. This simply cannot happen.”

This self criticism is part of your personality. Did you have this in the Sparta youth as well? “For sure. But listen, you have a job. If you make a crucial mistake in your job, you’d take it home with you. I think every player has this, but maybe not all players show it.”

Really? I doubt it. “No, I am telling you. This was an obvious howler. A pro player who’d try to talk his way out of this would be ridiculed for days. I made a decision against France. The Pogba goal. It was the wrong decision in hindsight. But it was calculated. I didn’t think that was a blunder. We were out of position. If I bite, and Pogba goes past me, he’s in on goal. I rather have him take a shot from 30 meters than from 15 meters. I forced him to go to Maarten’s right, which is his strong side. Sadly for all of us, the ball was too good. In hindsight, yes, I might have done better to close him down, but that’s all irrelevant now. You make a quick decision and sometimes you’re wrong. With the Sweden mistake, I could live with that better if Bas Dost’s goal would have been allowed. Making a mistake but winning is not that dramatic.”


Strootman is skipper in the absence of Sneijder and Robben. He was positive about Oranje’s development. “We controlled the game versus Sweden and Belarus, bar 20 minutes. The France game, we knew it would be tough to control them. But overal, it’s more stable than – say – 5 months ago. We seem to be able to execute all the tasks the coach puts on us. We don’t give a lot away, we coach each other and work hard. The way we defend dead balls is also much better. Everyone is focused. These are key moments in top football. You got to “stand right” as they say. I remember the Iceland away game. Two moments of loss of focus and we’re 2-0 down.”

The only way is up. “We can play much better even. I think the vibe in the group is excellent. We are a team, we fight for each other. I am sure the rewards will come. And you know what, I think it’s a good thing that we can’t be certain to beat Sweden or Belarus, like we did in the past. We now know we have to give everything against so-called smaller nations. Holland used to qualify with ease. That is behind us. I actually think it’s a good thing. Sneijder said recently, “There was a time when we got out of the bus and said to each other: let’s win this 3-0. That time is over.””

Louis van Gaal allowed Strootman his debut four years ago, against Andorra. He got the skippers band at 22 years old. And everyone thought: Strootman will have 50 or 60 caps when he’s 26 years old and will have played three or four big tournaments. The 2018 World Cup will be his first big tournament, should Oranje get there.


Edgar Pitbull Davids

“Well, I was at the EC2012, but I didn’t play a single minute. The World Cup 2014, I watched on TV as a result of my injury. And we missed the last Euros. I really want to experience a World Cup now and play. It’s a huge motivation. I’m 28 years in two years time. It’s about time I start to present myself on that stage.”

Strootman’s massive injury problems started with a game vs France. Did this play in his head? “Well, I did get a slight knee injury in that game and was subbed. But the real injury happened in a game vs Napoli a week later. So, no. It didn’t cross my mind. I now was troubled with a muscle injury, but the knee will always demand attention, for the rest of my career. I need to work through a schedule constantly, but when I do I am free in my head to play the match. And the more I play, the stronger the knee will get. Your whole body, basically. And the more confidence you build.”

training poland 2

Do you experience the game differently now, post injury? Do you look differently at your career? “With regards to the game, no. And it’s not so that I am less serious about my game, or less frustrated from mistakes. I don’t think I’ll look at my career until it’s over. No time to do that now, hahaha. And football life in Italy doesn’t allow it. You need a top mentality in Italy. In Holland, when you’re injured or a sub, you still get guidance and attention from the coach and the club. In Italy, if you don’t play, you need to make sure you stay fit and that the coach keeps seeing you. It’s tough.”

Is Kevin Strootman the leader of this new Oranje? He shuffles on his seat uncomfortably. “I am one of the players. I’m not bigger or better or more important. I’m a player in service of the artists. I won’t dribble past 5 players to hit the ball in the top corner. Sadly. My qualities are to keep the balance. Fill the gaps. I will lead by example, not with words. I will fight and battle and go into challenges with all I have. I want to win. That is deeply engrained in me.”

But, there is a chance that in a year or so you are the first captain of Oranje? That surely is an honour?

“But do you know what that means? That Arjen is still not fit. That Wesley isn’t available. That is not something that would make me happy at all! It wouldn’t be good for Oranje, nor for me. No no, please let me be the third skipper for  a while, behind these two. All good!”


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Oranje getting ready for Belarus and France w/o Robben

Amidst all the shenanigans at federation level, Danny Blind is keeping his focus on the games ahead. He shrugs off the problems with management, the influence of new Tech Director Van Breukelen and shows confidence for the matches vs Belarus and France.

Danny Blind is not to be envied. Key players missing, overall quality below par, lack of support of his management. But he still finds time to joke. At the press conference last week, Hans van Breukelen was missing due to a wedding party. Blind: “I told Hans he should go nice and early to be ahead of traffic.” Which invoked laughs from the media present.

Asked if he felt the pressure: “I know there is pressure. Just like with any other game. We need wins. Whether I’m working for Oranje, or coaching Ajax 2. Also as a player, we wanted to win every game. That pressure is normal for me. I don’t feel the pressure of needing to win to keep my job. That is counter-productive pressure and I’m fortunate not to have that stress. I don’t do anything for this, it’s just how I am.”

Blind bela

One of the key talking points is Arjen Robben’s fitness. “We all want a fit Robben to play for us. But you have to be realistic and we also have a responsibility towards Arjen. I need him for the full qualification series and for the World Cup. I don’t want to take risks, and neither does his club.”

With all the attention going to the missing Robben, the return of Stefan de Vrij is almost overlooked. It was basically one year ago almost to the day that De Vrij stayed behind in the break with a knee issue.

The Lazio defender is impressing again in the Serie A and is keen to get minutes in his former home, De Kuip. “I am so happy to be back. I so missed this. My first focus was getting fit for Lazio and now I can play without pain, I’m top fit and keen as. Playing for Oranje is amazing and to be able to play on my favorite pitch in my home stadium gives me the goosebumps just thinking about it.”

And here is probably the best news football fans in Holland can get, apart from Robben being 100% fit and ready. Oranje is back in De Kuip. In 2012, KNVB general manager criticised the Feyenoord home as being outdated and obsolete. He copped a lot of criticism from the fans, as De Kuip used to be the home of Oranje for decades. The more sterile and theatre like Arena in Amsterdam was chosen as it has more VIP rooms and restaurants for the sponsors. But De Kuip is a true football temple and one of the most intimidating stadiums of Europe. The fans are close to the pitch, the pitch is arguably the best in Europe –  100% grass, no synthetics – and somehow, De Kuip is always full when Oranje plays (in contrast with half empty Arena and Phillips Stadium experiences).

kuip bela

Youri Mulder: “I scored the winner vs Belarus in the 90s in De Kuip and it is indescribable what happens when you score in De Kuip. It’s like you’re in a cyclone. The energy, the noise, the whole experience. I can only describing it to making love to the girl you have been in love with for years and she never really noticed you. Until suddenly, she does and you meet and fall in love and…magic happens…”

Former Feyenoord striker Peter Houtman: “You enter the stadium from the tunnel and the energy grabs you by the throat. Immediately. Players can’t hear each other. Coaches can’t reach their players. It’s loud and all encompassing. Even now, coming into the stadium, without playing yourself, it’s massive.”


It’s fitting that De Kuip is the new home of Oranje. Feyenoord is the leader in the Eredivisie and was victorious versus Man United in the EL. Rick Karsdorp was part of the Oranje squad twice before, but hasn’t broken his duck yet. “It’s great that we are doing so well with Feyenoord. We are in good shape and the team manager will take notice of that. My career is going from strength to strength. I’m grateful to Fred Rutten for this. He recognised a right back in me, whereas I played playmaker in the youth. But the game has changed and they demand a lot from full backs these days. Build up, speed, tactical awareness and assists.” Karsdorp believes team spirit is the secret for Feyenoord and hopes this can channel into Oranje. “We are like family at Feyenoord. We enjoy playing together and are tight. This is how new players like goalie Brad Jones and striker Jorgensen can adapt so easily. It is not the sum of the individuals, it’s more than that. I hope to get that feeling with Oranje as well.”

oranje bela

Despite the fuzzy warm feelings Karsdorp and co are hoping for, Blind approaches the games very business like. The coach: “Belarus is a tough opponent, yes. Most players are in the Russian league and it’s a tough league to play in. But, we play at home and we have players playing in the EPL, the Serie A, the Bundesliga, Turkey and Portuguese league. I demand a win and I think I am allowed to. The players need to cope with that pressure, because they can. Belarus is a tightly organised, defensive thinking team. They won’t give a lot away, but we need to be on the front foot and win the second ball. Snuff out their counter and keep pressure on. At home, we always want to win and that is the mission.”

For the France game, Blind doesn’t have a different aim. “Again, playing at home, you need to be gutsy and confident. I analysed the friendly against France and they were better. It will be different than playing Belarus. France wants the ball and wants to play. This will give us opportunities.”

wes bela

The former Ajax captain doesn’t wanna give much away regarding the line up, but it is clear that De Vrij, Dost and Karsdorp are making it hard for him. Veltman didn’t impress earlier and seems not in great shape for Ajax either. Dost scores as if he played for Sporting for years and Stefan de Vrij impresses in Italy again. Janmaat being injured, Karsdorp might start. “He is playing well and it’s an advantage to play in De Kuip for him. It’s his home and he’ll feel confident.” He is not planning to use both strikers. “Dost is not a Plan B player alone. He could easily start. I will pick one or the other. I did take Siem de Jong along for an all or nothing hail mary end of the match, if need be.”

Wesley Sneijder didn’t come to the Oranje camp without issues. A muscle injury in his thigh got him subbed for Gala. “Sneijder seems fit now, but with muscle issues, he could actually be in trouble after 10 minutes. It’s a scenario I need to keep in mind. And prepare for that.”

Oranje in training

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Oranje: one more year to prepare…..

Louis van Gaal has almost exactly one more year to prep his squad for the World Cup. Will the No. 5 of the FIFA Ranking have a chance in high heaven to win the World Cup? How strong is this Oranje.

A wonderful VI Magazine analysis, added with a splash of Jan insights.

Van Gaal is an optimistic man, normally. Who will always see chances for his team. His team is the absolute leader in the current Group D of qualifications, hasn’t dropped a point and is practically certain to go to Brazil.

But the same Louis van Gaal says his team is not yet good enough to go for the title. The ambition announced by the KNVB is to finish in the top 4 at the World Cup. One year into the qualifications, Van Gaal claims this is too ambitious and considers talking to the KNVB about this. “I would be a surprise if we win it. I don’t think we will. I can mention eight nations with better odds.”

Let’s analyse the squad and see where we stand.

Attacking capabilities

– Creativity, the ability to take opponents on one on one

These players are the big magnets. The players for whom fans pay the hefty price for a ticket. Clubs open their war chest to sign these lads. The Big Guns. Examples are Messi, C Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Reus, Balotelli, Iniesta, Cavani, Suarez, Bale… These are the lads who can make the difference at the highest level, under the most pressure, in the smallest of spaces. Holland has always had players like this. Cruyff, Rensenbrink, Bergkamp, Van Basten, Roy, Vanenburg, Ronald de Boer… We have demonstrated in the qualification games that we have a number of players who can do it at that level. The Narsinghs, Schakens, Mahers… But can they do it at the highest level? Doubt is justified.

We know Arjen Robben can. He belongs in the list above. Robben, injury prone, somewhat older… The only one at world class level. The afore mentioned Narsingh and players like Elia, John, Maher….they might have a good day… But they will also have a bad day…. That is part of their development. Even players like Neymar and Reus can’t bring it every game (yet).

Apart from Robben, we have Robin van Persie, who does not have that one-on-one dribble skill like Robben or Messi, but he definitely brings a lot of creativity in the box. Robben and Van Persie. That is the score on this topic.

sneijder backheel

Sneijder’s backheel vs China


– Goal scoring

We scored 20 goals in six games. Only three nations in Europe have done better: Bosnia Herzegowena, Germany and England. Top nations like Spain, France, Portugal and Belgium have more difficulty scoring. The Dutch goals were made by Van Persie (5), Lens (4), Van der Vaart (4), Martins Indi (2), Schaken (2), Huntelaar (2) and Narsingh (1). Siem de Jong, Robben and Sneijder added some friendly goals to it. A good wide range of goal scorers and we have goal scoring capabilities in attack, midfield and defence. Statistically it can be shown that Oranje creates a good number of opportunities on top. And we always did. The Dutch develop pretty good strikers and we had several generations with amazing forwards ( Cruyff/Van Dijk/Rep/Jan Mulder, Van Basten/Kieft/Bosman, Kluivert/Nistelrooy/Van Hooydonck, etc), but what do all the stats mean against nations like Hungary, Estonia and Andorra? Can we do it against the top nations. This year, we had three real tests: Belgium, Germany and Italy. In these three games we scored three goals and we conceded five. We have a phenomenon in Van Persie (we need to make sure he stays fit), a box killer in Huntelaar and players hovering around central striker position who can score goals but sometimes run cold ( Robben, Vaart, Sneijder, Siem de Jong, Maher). Bas Dost, Van Wolfswinkel and Luuk de Jong can still develop into goalscoring machines at the higher levels they now are, but it seems Louis should invest a bit more in his relationship with Huntelaar.

– Position play

Oranje demonstrated the perfect positioning play resulting in a goal in the last game of the season, against China. It’s the 66th minute when Sneijder repossesses the ball. He finds Van Persie. The striker dribbles a bit and passes to left winger Robben, who pulls the ball back on the coming man, Sneijder, who scores nicely with a backheel. This goal had class, smarts and all elements of a good cooperative team. Quick passing, good running, no egotistical moves. Effective and efficient. And Oranje showed many goals like this in the last year. Our team does not depend on one tactic or on set  pieces. it is clear that Van Gaal’s work with positioning play has paid off. He has managed to play more pass-and-move while introducing more and more new players. Where Van Marwijk relied on two strong defensive mids and put emphasis on defensive skills over build up skills, Van Gaal seems to switch Nigel de Jong for a more football player type like De Guzman or Clasie. Whenever Oranje has possession, we have so many tactically smart players on the pitch (Van Persie, Sneijder, Van der Vaart, De Guzman) that we are almost always able to create a man-more situation. Even against strong opponents. In South Africa, in 2010, it was visible already against Brazil. In the first half, we played with De Jong as holding mid and we couldn’t make the play. In the second half, Van der Vaart came on and Oranje got the upperhand. Same with the game this season against Germany, early in the campaign. Oranje was nervous and a bit afraid. We didn’t do well. But against vice Euro champ Italy, later in the season, we demonstrated our gogme, our wits and our prowess. It’s not all perfect yet. Against China, against 10 men, it took until Sneijder came on to allow the ball to run smoothly through the ranks.


oranje youngsters

Narsing, John and Maher. The new breed…

– Depth / Speed

The ability to penetrate behind the back four of an opponent. Every top team has at least one player with that skill. Spurs has Bale and Lennon. Real Madrid has C Ronaldo. Barca has Dani Alves, Pedro and Messi. Bayern has Robben, Ribery and Muller. Dortmund has Reus. The big Rondo, where players pass and move the ball swiftly until one of the ten field players can make the run. It takes timing, it takes speed, and it takes a player (at least one) to play the pass.

Oranje has Robben and Lens. Narsingh has the quality too, but is still an uncertainty. From midfield, the running man (Strootman/Van Ginkel/Fer) should be doing it and from the back only Daryl Janmaat/ Van Rhijn have the ability.

Whenever Oranje plays with Sneijder/Vaart/Maher, this ability is less apparent as these players want the ball in their feet. On the other hand, these three are all capable of giving the killer pass, as is Van Persie, De Guzman or Clasie. It seems the development of Fer (Norwich), Van Ginkel (Chelsea) and Strootman (Roma) will be key to give Oranje that edge.

It has to be said that your back four has not excelled in giving that killer pass. Heitinga and Vlaar demonstrated a good pass at Eredivisie level but have yet to convince at the highest level. Willems has the guts to play it, Blind has the vision to play it and hopefully BMI and De Vrij the skills. But we have yet to witness it.

– Length/Power

Robin van Persie and Huntelaar can both be seen as specialists in the air. Huntelaar is more the Kieft/Houtman header. Excellent timing, courage and strong muscles. Speaking of courage, who can forget the header against England. Where Klaasjan gave another meaning to the expression “eating dirt”. Robin van Persie is more of the Van Basten style header. Van Persie heads the ball like he plays football with his left. With class, with pizzazz and with vision. Van Persie can place a ball with his head like most others can with their foot. We saw him score pretty amazing header goals this season.

Van der Vaart, Robben and Sneijder all scored important header goals (Vaart at Spurs, the other two at the World Cup vs Brazil and Uruguay) but can’t be seen as experts. Jeremain Lens even got word from Van Gaal that he should be working on his heading skills. And he immediately scored a freak header from outside the box. Both the De Jong bros are strong headers, with Siem having added value in the way he senses where to be when the ball comes. An uncanny sixth sense for position. Van Wolfswinkel and Dost are not typically good headers, and neither is Maher. We do have aerial threats from midfield in Leroy Fer and Marco van Ginkel. The former being a real specialist. Strong jumper, good timing and tremendous courage. Van Ginkel is a strong athlete as well, but technically not a great header of the ball. Strootman, equally tall, is a remarkably weak header however. The two full backs are weak in the air, but the center backs (Heitinga, Vlaar, Martins Indi and De Vrij) are all pretty solid in the air.

RVP, Blind Janm

The young and the new: RVP, Blind and Janmaat

Defensive capabilities

– Ball winners / toughness / will to win

During the WC 2010 people criticised the two defensive mids De Jong and Van Bommel but when you ask players, you will always here the same : they love playing with Nigel and Mark. And they hate playing against them. And their role in 2010s Oranje was vital. They were the lock on the door and kept the team afloat when it didn’t flow. And the reality is, during a major tournament there is always at least one bad game. Every strong nation has players like these, to hold the fort. Spain has Xabi Alonso and Busquets. Brazil has Gustavo anD Paulinho. Germany has Schweinsteiger nand Khedira. Argentina has Gago and Mascherano. In Holland, Bommel and De Jong are absent. Van Bommel retired, De Jong has a long-term injury. De Guzman is now the man of choise for Van Gaal but his strength is build up. Not the destroyer role. Strootman, Clasie, Fer can all play on that position but none of them seem to have the grit of the two guards we use to have. In the Eredivisie, even Van Ginkel, Maher and Afellay played those roles but at the international level they would be too light.

In Van Gaal’s philosophy, taken from the Total Football text book, the whole team will need to be able to repossess the ball, Barca style. Gone are the days in which Sneijder/Van der Vaart could observe how Bommel/De Jong chased the ball. Tactical smart, will to win and physical fitness are the three players called up to replace Mark and Nigel.

– Tactical Discipline

Jupp Heynckes said recently that the biggest strength of his Bayern was their unity. Gone were the days of Robben and Ribery being the stars while the rest of the team did the work. Everyone does the work: even the Robbery couple. It was exactly this discipline that got Oranje in the WC2010 finals and the same lack of discipline that got us egg on our face in 2012. Does the current Oranje have “it”. The problem is: we can’t tell until we are tested. And we have not really been tested in a real match yet. Taking a look at Jong Oranje in Israel, it is clear to see how hard it will be for the youngsters to step up. We played nice matches against Germany and Russia when the circumstanves were good. We have a good spell against Italy, but when the Azuri scored, our spirit vanished. Van Gaal’s influx of debutants and youngsters will have affected the “team building” process. His captain-policy was a bit of a mishit (Sneijder and Kuyt both lost their standing this summer). Both Sneijder and Kuyt responded with great disappointment on that fact. The list of players that might have felt put down by the Team Manager grows. Van Persie was the first to be told he wouldn’t start, quickly switching roles with Huntelaar, who now must feel abandoned. Van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong, Ibi Afellay, Maarten Stekelenburg. This is quite a gamble. Sneijder and Stekelenburg could well bounce back but for Sneijder and Huntelaar it might be too late. It’s almost as if experience is a dirty word, since 2012. But Israel 2013 has taught us that youth isn’t everything. As for tactical smarts, Dutch players are universally admired for their vision and coaching and practice in Holland is always tactical. Young players like Blind, Clasie, Fer and Maher seem to be able to read the game and take the opportunities presented.

LVG Kluiv


“Louis leave the gangsta rappin’ to me, ok bro?”

– Defensive Headers

Oranje only conceded two goals. Spain and Belgium are as tight. Only Switzerland (vaults) and Russia (gulags) do better with only one goal conceded. Holland is well organised when losing the ball, but with the young and experienced back four and the fact that both De Vrij and Martins Indi lack the ruthlessness of Vidic, Terry and Silva, to name three, it is logical for Van Gaal to add some midfield length to the mix. Janmaat and Blind are not natural headers of the ball. Against opponenents with a strong airforce, Van Gaal might pick Van Ginkel or Fer over Clasie/De Guzman, purely to support the last line of defence. Being developed purely in Holland, it is clear that the current defenders lack some grit. Martins Indi being exposed in Israel (as was Van der Hoorn, now at Ajax) and De Vrij was humiliated a couple of times in the Eredivisie even. Janmaat and Blind like to find the footballing solution. Pieters might add some power to the back four, as could Vlaar. The latter misses the footballing skills and the speed of execution – maybe – but his physical power is an asset. Heitinga can’t be ruled out either.  A good header of the ball, but in need of a new challenge.

– World Class Goalies

Germany has Neuer. Brazil has Julio Cesar. Italy has Buffon and Spain has Casillas (and De Gea and Reina). Holland doesn’t even have a number one… Stekelenburg lost his spot (after a tremendous WC2010 and a poor EC2012 and a poor season at Roma). He might do a “Sar”. Edwin van de Sar drowned at Juve, made a comeback via Fulham and became one of the greatest. In top form Stekelenburg is world class. At the moment, Van Gaal is mixing it up. Krul had a go until his injury. The latter had an abysmal season with his club, while Vorm and Vermeer have class but it is not yet World Class.

– The Coaching Staff

Van Gaal has everything one needs to be a Top Coach. Experience, ambition, tactical smarts, communication skills (towards the players that is), a modern method (video analysis) and loyal assistants. Blind has been around and is a walking football encyclopedia while Kluivert is seen as a top coach in development. The latter has a great report with the players. But there are some weaknesses. Van Gaal’s relationship with the media is strained at the best of times. He tends to use players as pawns. Youngsters don’t mind too much, but the likes of Van Persie/Robben/Sneijder don’t like to be manipulated. In the past Van Gaal’s ego has forced him to make stupid tactical decisions ( Reiziger as left back, bringing 2 extra strikers vs Portugal when 0-2 up) and his track record as a club coach shows he can’t work anywhere longer than one season without ending up in drama. The man’s will to become a success on the World Cup Stage could be a blessing for us, it could also be a curse.

– Conclusion

Van Gaal said a month ago that he saw eight other candidates with better options to with the title in Brazil. He was most likely referring to Spain, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Italy and maybe even Columbia and Belgium… He will also see England and France as outsiders. Van Gaal is a realist. He assesses Oranje’s strength well. We do have tremendous weapons, but also some vulnerabilities. We have one year to work on those, although the onus is less on Van Gaal and mostly on the question marks in the squad to develop well. In summary: the Feyenoord back four + Clasie, Daley Blind, Leroy Fer, Kevin Strootman, Marco van Ginkel and the goalies.


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Rafa leads the way to 4th victory in campaign

Truth be told, I wasn’t totally happy with LVG’s appointment. There were too many aspects in his past and personality I didn’t like. The dramatic series with Oranje in 2000/2001. The antics as a club coach (where some clubs asked him to leave, despite his quality) and his recent JC backstabbing at Ajax…

But…he is a world class coach. Club coach, I would add to that, but now he is demonstrating to the world that he has learned and developed. He is acting the National Team Manager perfectly. His relationship with the players seems to be great. He has clarity and consistency in selection and players’ choices. He has a good mix of assistants ( Danny Blind, cool & collected; up and coming Pat Kluivert for the fun factor and the passion; Ron Spelbos and Edward Metgod, the silent scouts in the background and then the usual goal keeper coach Frans Hoek and the video analysts he used at AZ and Bayern).

“Am I so dumb or are you so smart?!?!?! Oh…hang on… I got it wrong…”

Stekelenburg, Huntelaar, De Jong, Heitinga….they all have seen and experienced how decisive the man can be and they all seem to be accepting of his authority.

Van Marwijk has taught Dutch players that winning ugly is important and sometimes necessary and now we know what winning is (again), LVG will add the Dutch identity back into the mix. Wingers, one holding mid and attacking football.

Rafael van der Vaart played his 102nd cap against Romania and surpassed Phillip Cocu. Gio van Bronckhorst and Frank de Boer are in his sights now (106 and 112 respectively). “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t matter to me….”, the Man of the Match laughed last week.

Two assists and a goal for Rafael van der Vaart and that swagger that adds so much confidence to the team. And what a team it was. Power, speed and skill on the wings. A world class number 9 (RVP or Klaas Jan), creative midfielders and a destroyer in between and strength and speed at the back. I think we’re getting in real good shape (considering Robben, Sneijder and Krul weren’t even present…).

Heitinga celebrating the 2-0 with Martins Indi

So Romania had to concede 4 as well, like earlier in Budapest when we played Hungary.

And luck is always a factor. The free kick on the bar in the first 5 minutes could have gone in. And the penalty shout for Oranje could have been ignored. And all that jazz… But it went as it went and Oranje took the chances and did the business.

12 points out of 4 games.

I think Europe will be paying attention. I’m sure the football pundits and analysts in Spain, Germany, Italy and Portugal will read the papers and think…hmmmm….. Oranje…. :-).

With rumours that Spurs is following Clasie and our center back BMI scored two out of five, to name two facts, I think it’s clear we will reap more and more excitement around this team.

And with RVP finding the net again and that dream header of Lens, we seemed to be in that flow.

And Van Gaal will do everything to keep that flow going. Until end of June, 2014, I’m sure.

As he said when he was appointed: the World Cup is starting against Turkey.

I think he was right. Let’s keep on winning and only stop doing so when that man Blatter is waiting to give us that trophy.

Raf scores the 3-1 from the spot

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The Nation is happy with LVG

It is clear from the response in the country and on this blog, that all Oranje fans are really happy with the way Louis van Gaal has started this campaign. As he said himself: “My start in 2000 was bad, because I didn’t bring in new blood. I won’t make that mistake now.”

Louis van Gaal made some big decisions.

He decided on a style of playing that is more fitting of Dutch school playing: 4-3-3, forward pressure, fast circulation, real wingers…

The next thing he did, was to write profile descriptions for the positions. And then he went on to find the right players for these spots.

The next decision he made, was to not select players who are not match fit. So players who just made a big move from one country to the next, would not be selected. Good decision.

Clarity for all.

The response we’re seeing on this blog is mirrored in the response we see in the Dutch media.

Five football experts gave their opinions….

1. Robbie “Snakeman” Rensenbrink; former left winger in Oranje ’74

“Finally we have a real left winger again. I never understood the positioning of Robben on the right. It was so predictable. Coming inside, and trying to shoot. I played on the right at times, but you’re always slower, as you want to take on a ball with your strong leg. Lens did well too, against Hungary. All the youngsters were great. We only have 4 or so of the old guard in it. As far as I’m concerned, the coach can stick to his plan. Let this group have a go. We got a lot of criticism when we started in 1974. The friendlies we played were horrendous. But briefly before the World Cup we had a practice game against Argentina and suddenly, it all came together….”

2 Gertjan Verbeek; no international caps, coach of AZ

“Something had to change. And making tough decisions was key. Van Gaal showed his courage. It could have gone against him. We could have lost against Turkey. But we got lucky. Against Hungary, the team played well. Solid. But don’t forget, Hungary is a weak opponent. If you saw what these guys were doing when Clasie took that free kick. That was pathetic. But Louis started really well. Great for him, the national team and for Dutch football. The points are in the bag and the 1-4 is a good result internationally. Well done!”

3. Gaston Taument; former Oranje international and current Feyenoord youth coach

“I thought Oranje was fresh and fun to watch. Van Gaal has given a couple of youngsters a chance, but I do believe these guys are stayers. Hungary wasn’t too strong, that is true, but we shouldn’t emphasize that too much. We won twice. That is great. I watched the Feyenoord lads, in particular. Clasie and Martins Indi. The latter had to really work hard, very hard, to get to this level. But he is developing so well. The big clubs abroad will have him on the radar now. He played great against Hungary and that goal really did something to me. Scoring for Oranje is special. I once scored with my head ( World Cup 1994) but I wasn’t a stayer in Oranje. But I think Bruno will be….”

4. Hans “De Breuk” van Breukelen; former Oranje international, PSV Board member

“I am positively surprised by Oranje. The first win over Turkey was a bit lucky. We did create a lot but we also gave away too much. But against Hungary, it was great. I tip my hat to the staff and players. The staff had the guts and the vision to blend these youngsters in. And it’s been good. I was watching this with glee. It was fresh and playful. The latter is sometimes missing in a well oiled team. I do believe Van Gaal will definitely use players as Afellay, Van der Vaart, De Jong and Van der Wiel later on. But the message is clear. We do have younger and hungry players that will do the job too. That is clear. The old guard won’t have a permanent pass to get a starting position in this team, like it appeared to be under Van Marwijk, at times.”

5. Adri “Spijker” van Tiggelen, former Oranje international, Sparta scout

“There is a new regime at Oranje and that is fascinating. Van Gaal wants to make his mark and create his own group. Our luck is that we are in a very weak group. Turkey and Hungary are the strongest opponents but they’re not too good. We play Andorra soon and then we’ll have quite a gap, I guess. I am not sure if have so many great talents, to be honest. We call a player a talent very quickly. Willems is not yet the Oranje left back we need. He’s still vulnerable. The Feyenoord lads got a chance because the club was lacking money to spend. Ajax and PSV have lots of foreign lads in the youth developmment. It’s clear to me that Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie will still have to carry the weight. We will see Mathijsen and maybe Heitinga disappear, but whoever plays, we will always qualify of course as a result of the weak group we’re in. Louis can start to worry about the squad for 2014 World Cup… Ample time.”

Maarten Stekelenburg went through the wringer with Oranje. First Van Gaal bypassed him for the job between the sticks, but when Krul was out with an elbow injury, the Roma man was the Oranje no. 1 again.

“I was totally surprised Van Gaal benched me. And obviously, I wasn’t in agreement with it, but what can you do? You can sulk and whine or you get on with it. I decided to train hard and wait for my new chance. Luckily for me, unfortunately for Tim, it came very quick.”

Does Stekelenburg have feelings of revenge? “No, that is not me. The coach knows me, he knows what he can expect from me.”

What does Steks think of the criticism? “As a goalie, if you concede, you hardly ever look good, you know? When we were winning, no one criticised me. Now we lose a couple of games and people focus on all your little mistakes. It seems as if I played a lousy Euros, the more it is behind us…”

Rafael van der Vaart wants to fight back. He feels he has been overlooked, despite Van Gaal’s comments that he wanted to “spare” the lads who made a transfer…

“If you’ve played 100 international games and than you suddenly aren’t called up, it hurts….”, say Van der Vaart. The coach said I wouldn’t be fit enough, but I don’t think I agree.

The former Ajax, Madrid and Spurs player has returned to his second home in Hamburg and wants to get back in Oranje as soon as possible. “This is the good thing with Van Gaal. He will always give you a chance.”

Van der Vaart got the chance to make an impression on his new coach at HSV in two friendly games. Thorsten Fink: “He immediately demonstrated how important he can ben. We do need time to make the team gel, but I am very positive.”

Klaas Jan Huntelaar joined Cruyff and Abe Lenstra on the eternal topscoring list. He now has 33 and is still counting. “It’ a huge honour to see your name on that list, with all those legends. The Schalke striker had to – again – accept a role behind Van Persie. “The coach told me from day 1 in the trainings camp. So I knew. I want to play always, but Van Gaal gave me his tactical reasons, and I accepted it. I respect that approach.”

Hunter felt frustrated at the Euros under Van Marwijk as he felt he wasn’t treated in a fair way. “It is different now. I can handly clarity. I will fight my way back in. I always do. But the series are long and I’m sure I will contribute.”

Van Gaal has made it clear to both players that he is not in favour of a line up with both players in the team. Only one of them will play. “That is the coach prerogative. But it’s been clear from day 1. That to me, is important. The coach looks at it one a game by game basis. He will determine what is needed on that particular moment. And this is how we as players will deal with it.”

Arjen Robben wants to become more egotistical. Huh?? The Oranje and Bayern winger wants to regain his form in this way.

Robben: “I have struggled in the last months of last season and at the Euros. I wasn’t free in my head. There were different reasons, but mainly my injury but also the discussions at club level about my egotistical play. I started to adjust as a result. Subconsciously, of course, but still. I started to think about this, while I was playing. I would have a little debate “Should I pass, do I dribble…?”… That is not how I play. I am an intuitive player. My strength is my independence. And yes, I make mistakes or make the wrong decision…
By changing the way I naturally play, I think I wasn’t able to reach my normal level.”

Robben continues: “I spoke about it with people around me. I need to go back to my fundamentals. It will sound weird, I know, but I need to play more egotistical. Going for the action, have confidence and go for it. In the season prep and also in the game against Turkey, I felt: Yes! I’m back!”

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Playful Oranje wins first two games…

And sets a record too. Ten World Cup qualifications games won, in a row. That record belongs to Bert and Louis of course :-). But this has never been done before by Holland.

And the youthful Oranje learns fast from the old master LVG. Three days after Turkey, Holland plays an even better game (against a weaker opponent…granted…) and scores 4 away goals.

Jeremain Lens scores twice and has one assist as he had to replace Arjen Robben who got a groin response in the warming up. Van Gaal: “I won’t take any chances with players’ fitness. Robben is too important and as we’ve seen, his replacements can do well too. Heitinga had cramp in the Turkey came and I didn’t want to risk an injury for him in this game. Besides, Vlaar is an inch taller, so that helped too against the headstrong Hungarians.”

In the stadium where Bert van Marwijk’s Oranje played great games, the new Oranje started to show itself in full form. It might not have been a flashy game like the Hungary 0-4 game in 2011 but this Oranje did very well.

Lens was able to score his first 3 minutes into the game on a perfect cross by team mate Narsingh. Hungary could equalise after a couple minutes, when Clasie allowed Gera the chance to dive over his leg. Dszudszak didn’t fail but it was Feyenoord defender Martins Indi who headed Oranje back on course on a perfect Sneijder cross. Holland didn’t make that many mistakes this time around, although Clasie was lucky that he wasn’t penalised with a second yellow and second penalty when he handled the ball just before the break.

Oranje defended calmly and had some attractive attacking plays over the wings. It never panicked, even when leader of the pack RVP decided his thigh muscle needed a rest. The hungry Huntelaar would take his place and after Lens’ second goal, the Hunter scored his goal, taking him closer to the record top scorer, assistant coach Pat Kluivert. Huntelaar is now on par with Cruyff and Lenstra.

Skipper Sneijder was pleased but also critical. “Our first half was not great. Our ball circulation was too slow. But in the second half, we improved and played well. Every lose ball was ours, we had speed on the wings and we controlled the game. We also demonstrated that every one wants to work. Everyone is keen to close the gaps. Than football is relatively easy and fun. This makes we are always tight and close and there are several options.”

And truth be told, even Robin van Persie, super striker, was working and challenging where he could.

Bruno Martins Indi was replaced by team mate Joris Mathijsen, as a result of injury as well, while Adam Maher came late to replace Kevin Strootman, who still played a good game, but was less deciding this time around compared to the Turkey game. Strootman was kneed in the back.

Van Gaal: “We got six points, but lost a couple of players: Krul and Fer first. Now Robin, Bruno, Kevin and Arjen Robben…”

Louis van Gaal is a contrarian. Whenever the media are ready to criticise, he defends his team. Whenever euphoria comes up, Louis will criticise his team :-).

“Listen, a 1-4 against Hungary is quite a good result, in Europe. I think we have made a statement these last four days. But… I am not satisfied. Hungary was in disarray in the second half and we didn’t respond good enough. We could and should have scored a couple more. We didn’t take all our chances against Turkey, and this made me sit nervously on that bench. But this time around, we were sloppy with our opportunities again.”

LVG was pleased with Clasie’s performance. “He played well. He did much better than against Turkey. The only criticism I have, is that at times he was too slow to push up for the lose ball. That is part of his job. To be alert and always be in time. That is the objective. And he didn’t manage to do this always. But the whole team deserves a compliment. This team has hardly played together and most are pretty young.”

Van Gaal likes to compliment himself too. “And I am allowed to say my subs were ok? I replaced Robben, had to replace Robben, and Lens didn’t disappoint did he? Huntelaar came in and scored too. And Mathijsen had to come on without a warming up and played strong too.”

When the reporter said to Van Gaal, that despite Van Gaal’s decisions it was actually Lens that scored, not Van Gaal, the coach became prickly. “If I am not allowed to say I coached well today, I will shut up.”

But he finished positively. “This shows that the Eredivisie is actually a strong league. We have technically and tactically strong players. We shouldn’t have allowed that penalty though… but we have good young talents and very good internationally experienced players. Good mix.”

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Louis wins the press, but loses the match

Most of you know I was not 100% behind the appointment of LVG. I know he is a great coach and knows a thing or two about (good) football but I sort of fear his dark side…

In the last press conference, however, he was more Han Solo than Darth Vader.

It gives me hope!

He manages groups well, in first instance, and he clearly won over the media with his new behaviour.

Most important question: is this a new Louis, or is he merely acting?

Louis gave clarity to a lot of questions prior to the game. About the captaincy, the line up and even the players he’d bring at half time…. And seemingly, in a friendly way. That did promise something for the future :-).

Holland plays with Stekelenburg on goal, Van Rhijn, Mathijsen, Heitinga, Willems at the back. Nigel as sole holding mid and Raf and Wes as forward midfielders. Robben, Huntelaar and Narsingh play upfront in a 4-3-3.

Fairly remarkable was his comment that Huntelaar will be his striker for the near future. About his conversation with Robin van Persie: “Robin struck me in that. He is very intelligent and we had a very profound talk about football and about life. I have not had a conversation this deep with a player for a long time. It felt good and Robin in my eyes is an absolute top bloke. But Klaas Jan did bring more in the orange and he gets the nod now.”

Breaking news: Arsenal and Man United have reached an agreement on a transfer sum for Van Persie. Tomorrow, the ex-Feyenoord man will negotiate with Ferguson about his personal package.

Holland and Belgium. A famous fixture in the past. In the last decades, Holland likes to see Germany as their arch rival, but our neighbours in the south still see us as such. We played them last in 2004. Much too late. We lost 0-1, on a Bart Goor penalty kick. Sneijder, Heitinga and Kompany played in that match too.

The most famous friendly was the 5-5 in Rotterdam in 1999 with an Edgar Davids on fire.

Today’s Belgium played with (former) Dutch Eredivisie players Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Chadli and benchwarmers Mertens, Alderweireld, Simons, Dembele and Pocognoli.

Belgium plays with pressure high up the park against us and Mathijsen looks sluggish. Narsingh on the other hand impresses with his speed and a good cross on Huntelaar. Holland has lots of possession in the first minutes. And it’s also not as “friendly” in the first phase, with celebrated Van der Vaart copping yellow for a sliding on goalie Coutois.

After 20 minutes, Belgium scored. A lucky. Genk striker Benteke receives the ball after a Heitinga block and scores via Stekelenburg’s feet: 1-0.

Five minutes later, debutant Van Rhijn almost scores on a Narsingh cross. Coutois’ fingertips save Belgium here. The Ajax defender is bulldozered 7 minutes later, in the Belgium area, but ref Atkinson refuses to point to the spot.

Oranje is strong in possession but vulnerable in defense. Van der Vaart has the last word in the first half with a distance strike, blocked off by Vermaelen.

In the break, it’s Mario Been on Belgium tv criticizing Mathijsen: “He’s too slow and sluggish. His build up play is lacking.” And Ruud Gullit on Dutch tv: “Huntelaar isn’t found. If you can’t engage your striker, you are playing with 10 men. And Stekelenburg gambled with that first goal. If he would have stayed on his feet, he would have stopped that one. Like with Germany’s second goal at the Euros…”

In the second half, De Vrij, Maher, Viergever and Martins Indi all make their debut. Heitinga, Mathijsen, Willems and Van der Vaart stay in the dressing room. With Van Rhijn in the line up, Oranje plays with all debutant defenders.

Ten minutes into the second half, it’s Martins Indi’s pass to Robben that creates the equaliser. His low cross is too strong for Hunter, but Narsingh – Holland’s best man in the first half – is at the right spot to score the 1-1.

And only two minutes later, the same actors create the 1-2. Martins Indi’s pass reaches Robben who finds Huntelaar available to tap in the second goal.

Stekelenburg keeps Oranje in the game with good responses to shots of Defour and Chadli. Not much later, it’s Robben dribbling past three defenders, only for Belgium to stop him halfway their own area. Martins Indi impresses in possession but is sloppy defending. Chadli gets a free header thanks to the Feyenoord defender’s lack of marking. Stekelenburg saved Holland just moments before.

Stekelenburg actually needs to act more in the minutes after. A Lukaki shot, and Witsel with a tap in, almost. Adam Maher attempts a distance strike, but Coutois saves this time.

Oi, 2-2 for Belgium. De Jong loses possession and Mertens is away. He outpaces De Vrij and scores. Martins Indi offered Mertens a chance earlier too.

And Belgium scores twice in two minutes too. Mertens creating again, this time Lukaki gets the tap in.

Oh dear, another goal two minutes later yet again! Van Rhijn is marking air and offers Mertens all the time to find ex Ajax skipper Vertonghen who beats ex buddy Stekel. Three goals in 5 minutes? Hmmmm…

Van Persie, Afellay and Kuyt remained on the bench.

So Oranje loses with four goals conceded. The fourth defeat in a row. This happened last in 1954.

Captain Sneijder: “The first 20 minutes in the second half were fantastic. And then we make individual mistakes and we lose the game. That is sad, in particular because we all support this new system we are playing. We should look at the positives now and build on that.”

Coach Van Gaal: “Everyone is really emotional. So I didn’t talk to the lads yet. The first half was not great but we did create 6 chances. We had two great goals in the second half but we had trouble with Lukaku. Personal mistakes get Belgium back into the game.”

Mario Been: “It’s clear where the issues are in Oranje. It’s the back four with the problems. Fix that, and you have a good team.”

Arjen Robben: “We learned a lot today. But there is work to do. But despite the result, this were 3 days well spent. We had good talks and the coach gave me clarity where he wants to use me. In Oranje, he believes my ideal spot is on the left. At Bayern, he switched me to the right. I have a preference there, but I am happy to play on the left wing.” Robben had two assists today.

VI editor and analist Johan Derksen, earlier on extremely critical on Van Gaal (calling him a sneaky unreliable backstabber): “I rate Louis van Gaal’s work today an 8 out of 10. He has put the right players on the right spot. He was very logical today. If players make mistakes on the pitch, he can’t really help that. This must have been a useful night for Van Gaal. Here he could see what happens when we are not at our best. We lose against Belgium.”

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